For too many K-12 students in Mississippi – most from income-insecure households – computer science courses are non-existent in schools. For JJ Townsend, that’s a serious problem not only for students but also for our state.
“This disparity prevents our students from many benefits in the tech industry and sends a harmful message to students that coding isn’t something they can do and careers in the tech industry are not for them,” he said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 13 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. The median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $91,250 in May 2020, more than double the median annual wage for all occupations of $41,950.
Townsend is tackling this problem head-on with a new fund at the Community Foundation for Mississippi, CS for Y’all, to make computer science accessible to all. The initiative and CFM fund will coalesce funding partners, local and national computer science advocacy and training organizations, private industries, educators and education leaders to ensure a united approach to accomplish the 10-year strategic vision for computer science education in Mississippi.
This strategic plan will guide the vision for the fund, assisting to make decisions on implementation, overcoming barriers, preparing teachers, providing funding and improving local and state infrastructure. Donations to the fund will support designing and building high-impact initiatives, including:
- Summer of Code: A summer-long, city-wide computer science camp and competition that works to increase computer science activities in after-school and summer programs.
- CS Teacher Fellowship: A cohort-based, professional development for pre-service and new computer science teachers. The first cohort is spring 2023 with eight pre-service teachers from Jackson State University’s College of Education & Human Development.
- CS for Y’all Summit: A two-day conference that brings together education leaders, legislatures, private industry, computer science advocates and partners to convene, collaborate and learn as they break through some of the challenges and find solutions to build equitable and inclusive computer science pathways for students.
Townsend says partnering with CFM was important because it is an integral connector of people, funders, communities and organizations. “Partnering with CFM enables us to timely scale the work and focus on impact,” he said.
Sparking Tech Knowledge in Mississippi
CS for Y’all is not Townsend’s first foray into the tech world. Townsend was tapped in early 2022 by Microsoft to lead its philanthropic efforts through its TechSpark initiative in Jackson.
“I am thrilled to share Mississippi’s history and context with Microsoft and find opportunities we can partner with organizations to accelerate digital equity and support inclusive economic opportunities,” he said.
Through the initiative, Microsoft is active in Jackson Public Schools through the TEALS program, placing industry professionals with a high school teacher to help build their teaching capacity through ongoing training, CS teaching resources and a network of support. This volunteer effort is helping JPS teachers with instruction for Introduction to Computer Science, AP Computer Science and other courses.
Townsend says there’s more work to do to ensure all students have high-quality and equitable computer science classes.
“That’s why I am excited to help establish the CS for Y’all Fund through the Community Foundation for Mississippi,” he said. “It is an opportunity for Microsoft TechSpark to align our computer science investments with other funders and organizations working towards equitable and inclusive computer science pathways for students.”